Wallabies Win By A Whisker Against Welsh
by Brendan Bradford –
The illustrious career of Wallabies second-row stalwart Nathan Sharpe has come to a fairy-tale end with a last gasp 14-12 win over a heartbroken Welsh side at Millennium Stadium.
A Kurtley Beale try – the only five-pointer of the match – 20-seconds from full-time stole an unlikely victory for the Wallabies who had been contained if not outplayed for most of the game. After throwing away two sure victories in Melbourne and Sydney in the June internationals earlier this year, last minute lapses are becoming worryingly commonplace for this Welsh side which has now been beaten by the Wallabies six times in the last 13-months.
Sentimentality for Sharpe’s swansong aside, it was an uninspiring match marred by a high penalty count, wanton kicking, poor decision-making and even worse execution by both sides. Although they end their Spring Tour on the right side of the win-loss ledger, the style and method of the Wallabies’ victories leaves plenty to work on ahead of the British and Irish Lions tour next year.
Wallabies flanker, David Pocock was an instant influence at the breakdown after three months out with injury while Benn Robinson’s tenacity at the breakdown earned several first-half penalties too.
Wales had the better of the limited first-half try-scoring opportunities as they utilised space out wide to great effect. A promising break down the right by Alex Cuthbert was stymied by Berrick Barnes before a Leigh Halfpenny chip-and-chase was snuffed out by a retreating Wycliff Palu. Adam Ashley-Cooper’s break in midfield set up Australia’s best first-half chance but his wayward forward pass to Drew Mitchell ended the promising move.
A 10-8 penalty count in favour of the visitors gave Australia a 9-6 lead at the break with Kurtley Beale and Halfpenny the only names on the scoresheet.
Halfpenny penalties in the 55th and 59th minutes gave Wales a 12-9 edge but the Wallabies looked dangerous as replacements Digby Ioane, Stephen Moore and Michael Hooper made an instant impact and warded off the fatigue that coach Robbie Deans said caused the near catastrophe against Italy last week.
The Wallabies, who in three matches this tour had only scored nine second half points, were stifled on attack by a series of aimless kicks and mistakes as the home-side diligently kept them pinned inside their own half.
The game looked all but over when Australia lost possession at the breakdown after a Berrick Barnes line-break on halfway with under two minutes to play. But as they did in Melbourne in June in a similar position, the Welsh kicked the ball away and afforded the visitors one last attacking raid.
Mike Harris received a long pass from Barnes and managed to put Dave Dennis in space down the sideline on halfway. Desperate defence on Dennis by man-of-the-match Halfpenny wasn’t enough to stop the Waratahs flanker off-loading to Beale who won a 30-metre footrace to the line for the game winning score.
A distraught Welsh crowd streamed out of the stadium as Halfpenny received treatment after his awkward tackle on Dennis before Nathan Sharpe, in his last action as a test-match footballer, floated the conversion just short of the crossbar.
Australia – 14 (Kurtley Beale try, 3 pens) beat Wales – 12 (Leigh Halfpenny 4 pens)